By Craig Beilfuss

FRUITPORT–It was a roller coaster ride to say the least for former longtime Fruitport soccer coach and former athletic director Ken Erny, who passed away on Sunday, June 4, 

Erny stepped down from coaching three years ago after being diagnosed with ALS.

The Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame coach founded the soccer program at Fruitport back in 1990 and coached the Trojans for 19 years.

Prior to his time at Fruitport, Erny coached 10 years at Fruitport Faith Christian (now Fruitport Calvary Christian). Overall, Erny retired with a varsity career record of 335-182-32.

In October of 2020, the Fruitport soccer field was dedicated in his honor.

Photo courtesy of Ken and Lori Erny

On Monday, Fruitport Superintendent Jason J. Kennedy released the following communication to parents, guardians, students, staff and the Fruitport community:

“This communication is being sent with a sad and heavy heart, as I share the passing of longtime Fruitport educator, mentor, coach, and athletic director, Ken Erny. According to his family, Mr. Erny passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning after a long battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Described by colleagues and staff as an educational leader who was driven by his faith and strong desire to serve the students of Fruitport Community Schools, Mr. Erny was a servant leader and true champion for the Trojan Nation. Mr. Erny impacted countless lives throughout the Fruitport community and beyond, and we are so grateful for his service to our school and community. Mr. Erny was a passionate educator who loved the students, parents, families, and supporters of Fruitport Community Schools, as if they were his own.

Mr. Erny will be dearly missed, but we know that he will rest in peace having made such a positive impact and influence on our greater school community. To Mrs. Erny, the children of the family, and to Mr. Erny’s entire network of family and friends, we know that Mr. Erny is looking down upon us guiding us, mentoring us, and coaching us just like he has always done through this difficult time. We are a better school and community because of the life of Mr. Erny and he will always have a special place in our hearts. Thank you for sharing Mr. Erny with us, and for allowing him to serve, mentor, coach, and lead in the manner that he did. Our entire school family is here to help as we grieve the loss of Mr. Erny.

As details of the service are released by the family, we will be sure to share those with you. Thank you for your continued support of Fruitport Community Schools, and remember, we are here to help those in need during this difficult time.”

During the spring and winter in 2022 a number of volunteers from the Fruitport community contributed their time and talents to construct the home which Ken and his wife, Lori, moved into last year.

Ken Erny reflecting on his journey on his new deck built by the Fruitport football team in 2022 (Photo/Leo Valdez)

The new 3-bedroom, 1,900-square foot ADA home allowed access for Ken. The Erny’s celebrated with an open house last year on June 25 to show their appreciation and gratitude for those who helped out with the building project.

Ken and Lori have been a part of All Shores Wesleyan Church in Spring Lake for several years and pastor Dave Boomgaard reflected back on Ken Erny’s life and his passing.

“When asked what the most important rule was Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself,” said Boomgaard. “Ken lived this out as well as anyone. He loved God with all of his heart and lived out his faith in an authentic way. He deeply loved his wife and kids and showed so much love to others, from coaches to refs, and students and teachers, Ken also showed deep respect and love for others and always wanted the best for them.”

Ken Erny inside of his new vehicle in the spring of 2022 (Photo/Johnson Auto Sales)

During Erny’s journey fighting all sorts of medical issues last year, Ken and Lori were in need of a specially equipped vehicle to get back and forth to medical appointments. Assistance for the vehicle came locally from Johnson Auto Sales in Fruitport and All Shores Wesleyan Church.

“Ken Erny was the type of person that you only meet once in a lifetime,” said Brian Johnson from Johnson Auto Sales. “He led by example and demonstrated to so many how to live a life full of integrity, honor and respect. We should all strive to be the type of person and leader that Ken was. He will be sorely missed by our Fruitport community, but the legacy that he has left for countless athletes, students, educators, and community members will live on forever. May he rest in peace knowing that the life that he lived was truly remarkable.”
At the 2022 Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame banquet on June 18, held at Trinity Health Arena in downtown Muskegon, Erny was awarded the Gene Young Distinguished Service Award.
He addressed those in attendance with an emotional, 7-minute video message that had to be recorded prior to the event.

Local Sports Journal writer Tom Kendra with Ken Erny at the 2022 Muskegon Area Hall of Fame banquet (Photo/Leo Valdez)

Over his soccer officiating career, local soccer referee Todd Mines had the pleasure of working a number of games involving Erny roaming the sidelines.
“It was a pleasure to referee at Fruitport on several occasions throughout the years, the character, dignity and respect that Ken Erny displayed towards us as a coach and then later in his role as athletic director was second to none,” said Mines. “It’s encouraging to know that he is probably having a conversation with Jesus right now in his glory with a whole healthy body maybe even running some sort of soccer training. It’s a sad day, but it’s also a day to be praising and give God all the glory because with him we have everlasting life.
“Well done, loyal, and faithful servant I can see Jesus saying to Ken.”

Photo/Leo Valdez